Saturday, September 24, 2011

de cosas divertidas

¡Hola y besitos de Guatemala!  Surprisingly enough, I´m having a difficult time carving out space to write in this blog.  I am doing a lot of writing, but don´t necessarily always want to be doing it in front of a computer.  That being said, for my mother´s sanity, here I am in all my blog glory.  I have now been in here in Quetzaltenango for 2 weeks, the first of which was filled with muchas cosas políticas, but I´ll get to that in another post.  We´re here to talk about fun.  And I´m having a lot of it.  And in breaking news, this past Sunday was the first time someone utter the word “vamos…” and my brain didn´t automatically fill in “a la playa” afterwards!  And yesterday I got into my first argument in Spanish with a bank teller who refused to acknowledged that it is impossible to sign your name in the exact same way every time.  But anyways…

Un noche mio en Guatemala City

My first Guatemalan meal!
Not much to share here.  My hostel picked me up at the airport, brought me to their lovely accommodations, wherein the fellow guests and I ordered Pizza Hut, as there wasn´t much by way of local flavor that delivered and we were advised against going out on our own.  So I had a quiet night in, decimating my new friends in Scrabble.  The next day we boarded an early bus for the 4-hour trek to Quetzaltenango (henceforth referred to as Xela). And it was en route to Xela that I finally downed my first truly Guatemalan meal: tortillas con carne asada y frijoles

Proyecto Lingüístico Quetzalteco (PLQ) and Xela

Typical street in my neighborhood
We arrived at PLQ around 2pm and I was greeted by the lovely Aliza Kreisman who, coincidentally, I was virtually introduced to through my friend Daniel Sobol, after I enrolled in the school, but before I got there.  Aliza is the student coordinator and immediately rang my host mother, who arrived within the hour to escort me home.  Teresa and I immediately launched into a Spanish dialogue, me fumbling a little, and she pronouncing every last phoneme so as to increase my comprehension.  Upon arriving to my palatial home (Teresa´s husband worked in the states for many years and has been able to afford luxuries for his family that many Guatemalans (and other host families I´ve come to find out) cannot), I met my new family: Teresa´s husband Ronnie, their three children Lisbeth, Angél (who I referred to as Jesús not more than an hour later, much to the laughter of the family – ballpark, right?), and Marité, Lisbeth´s two children Charlie (who lives with his father) and the 9-month old Sebastian (who lives with us) and Lisbeth´s boyfriend Cristian (who does not).

Mi familia Guatemalteca

Monday morning, after a brief welcoming introduction, I dove right into classes.  The classes run Monday – Friday from 8am – 1pm. Mi maestro is Luis, a man who has worked for over 20 years with campesinos, various NGOs (neoliberal and radical), and political campaigns.  He now teaches at PLQ full time.  We spend about 75% of our class time just chatting – about everything from the political state of Guatemala, the transnational corporations that stomp their boots all over the people and resources, the education system, Monsanto, religion, and the Mayan culture.  When class isn´t in session (or sometimes when it is) we have conferences and guest speakers.  In the past week we´ve heard from a professor of history who unpacked the electoral process here, a woman who´s 23 year-old son was kidnapped 25 years ago during the height of the civil war, and Amaro, our intrepid guide, who leads a roundtable each week on ¨Que Pasó en Guatemala?¨ where we discuss the national highlights from the week.


But don´t worry, it´s not all heavy left-wing musings – I´ve been bouncing around a whole freaking lot.  Some school-led bounces, some self-elected.  Here´s a run down of my favorites so far:

Visiting Potters in Totonicapán

Carlos at work

Traveled here with a few fellow students. Learned about the process of turning la tierra into la plum (the earth into a powdered clay substance), and met Carlos, who has worked in the fábrica since his youth.  Some of his pieces are currently en route to Orlando and it´s clear as to why.

Las Fuentes Georginas

After an hour long bus ride, and an ascent up a volcano in the back of a pickup truck, we arrived at the hot springs, the water being heated deep within the volcano.  There are three pools of varying sulfuric hotness, lo más caliente taking all my teeth-gritting, calm-yourself, you-can-do-this fortitude but in the end I succeeded in submerging my entire body.

We ascended
into the mist
via pickup truck
The hottest pool, to the right

The source of the
scalding water
San Francisco el Alto

Didn´t take any photos here.  I honestly haven´t been taking many photos.  I´m enjoying being in each moment and awash in the people and cosas around me, without ostracizing myself further by whipping out my camera every three seconds.  My words will have to suffice.

This market only runs three days a week, during the morning, and after that the area is a ghost town.  Traversing streets and side streets packed with vendors on all sides one finds fish, meats, intestines, potatoes, miltomates, peppers, spices, herbs, toy cars, clothes, bananas, clothes, papaya, clothes, fabric, blankets, knick-knacks galore, until you reach a central square that is the animal hub. Cows, dogs, pigs, goats, ducks, chickens, roosters, kittens, rabbits, roam on rope and in baskets, available for purchase (I´ve yet to have to pleasure of riding home on a bus with one), among piles of junk that amount to yard sales from the 80s: VCRs, Nintendos, and Slinkies.  An overall assault on every sense, but one of the highlights of my week.  Many of the clothes sold at this market are produced in homes right in the pueblo, and the fruit sellers make the trek in from the coast three times a week to peddle their goods.

San Martín

At right, the machete Amaro used
to slash through the underbrush,
 and hanging in the center,
the sack that would
hold sugar and beans
underground during the conflict.

Amaro, our school guide, is an ex-guerilla whose family fled from Xela to Chiapas, México when he was 12 years old, after his father was kidnapped and tortured during the conflict.  Upon turning 21, in 1991, Amaro returned to Xela to take up arms and fight against the US-backed Guatemalan Army who had succeeded in wiping out much of the Mayan population.  I had the honor of being taken to one of Amaro´s former campamentos, a small ex-guerilla camp two hours into the woods of San Martín, a municipality 30 minutes from Xela proper.  The camp is named La Muela (the molar) on account of a guerilla who had a rotting tooth that was generously ripped out on that spot by a friend.  Amaro spoke of the brutalities of the war, the times he nearly escaped death, and the comrades he lost.  He fought for 5 years until the Peace Accords in 1996, and is still very active politically.  

San Andrés

A quick trip here revealed a 16th century church that was painted to relfect the mixture of the Spanish and Mayan cultures here in Guatemala.  My favorite thing here, besides the neon sign inside that flashed Pescador de hombres (Fisher of Men), was a typed sign that, translated reads, ¨You don´t need your cell phone to talk to God.  Please shut it off.¨ Brilliance.  

Al final

Thorbjørn, me, Signe and Theresa.
Next week I embark upon a four-week jaunt around the country (and into Belize and Honduras) before returning to Xela to complete four more weeks of schooling.  Then, I begin volunteering at a home for abandoned youth, Hogar Abierto, here in Xela.  My total timeline here is still hazy.  I´ve met amazing people from all around the world – Nigeria, Denmark (SOOOOOO many Danes), THREE FROM RHODE ISLAND, Germany, Colorado, Canada, Puerto Rico, Spain.  I´m getting used to the city.  It´s starting to feel like home.  I know that when I step across 8ª Calle, I don´t have to wait for the car that I hear approaching because it has a speed bump.  I know that the El Cuartito café will always have that delicious slice of cheesecake waiting for me.  I know that the soda doesn´t have corn syrup here, but that I´m not wanting for corn in the land of delicious tortillas.  I know that I will be overcharged at times for the color of my skin (nothing has prices here), but I´ve also developed my bargaining abilities.  I know that while it pales in comparison to the reality, I think that living as a minority should be experienced by all and I am finding it extremely formative.  And I know that what this country has taught me, in only two weeks, is that I love my family (blood and non-blood) very much.

Todo mi amor.

PS Photo Ephemera

The view from my bedroom
The stone pila where I wash my clothes

Lisbeth eating elote loco
One of the modes of transport
Spanish puns!


  1. you're going to come home with an adopted baby, aren't you?

  2. Thanks for sharing your wonderful adventures and impressions! Eager for more.....the pressure is on to continue telling us all. XOXO, Judy

  3. ¡Que interesante! Thanks for the updates! Missing you, but enjoyed reading about your adventures while I've sat for the last several hours, not working, on my first day of a new assignment. (Only because they are unprepared; not because I am defiant!) ¡Suerte y salud!